Brighton and Slavery

The If These Walls Could Talk research team has been exploring varied aspects of the history of Holy Trinity Church and the wider context of the building, which is centrally located in Brighton. Along the way we have discovered that some people who were related to the church had links to plantations and the slave trade: see our post on William Smith on the Font – his father Robert Smith, owned a coffee plantation in Jamaica; Ralph Cocking, the father of one of Holy Trinity’s incumbents, Reverend Ralph Daly Cocking (at Holy Trinity from 1870  –  1891), jointly owned a plantation in Jamaica with business partner Richard Daly (Ralph’s parents gave him Richard’s surname as his second given name).

One of our volunteer researchers, Carole researched this history and its relation to Brighton, as well as some further links with Holy Trinity Church.

By Carole:


Brighton did not play an obvious role in the ‘triangular slave trade’ whereby trade goods were shipped to West Africa from the ports of Liverpool, Bristol and London and exchanged for enslaved people, who were then transported across the Atlantic to work on plantations in the USA and in the Caribbean British colonial territories. Nonetheless, like the rest of Britain, Brighton benefited greatly from the wealth amassed from the profits of slavery, particularly as its grandeur grew.

Research carried out by Dr Nick Draper of University College London, reveals that up to 15% of the British elite were involved in the slave trade or British colony plantation slavery [1]. This was a very lucrative business. Great swathes of land all over Britain were purchased and vast manorial estates built or refurbished from the money generated [2].

During and after the era of slavery, colonists returning to England brought back with them ‘status symbols’ of former plantation house slaves, usually young boys, who were dressed exotically to enhance their ‘otherness’ and to display the wealth, privilege and power that the plantation owners enjoyed in the colonies. The following extract cited in English Heritage Properties 1600-1830 and Slavery Connections is taken from Gretchen Gerzina, ‘Black England: Life Before Emancipation’, John Murray Publishers 1995, [p53] and exemplifies the commodification of one enslaved African on British soil. It is an extract from a letter from Lady Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) to her mother. [Lady Georgiana was great-, great-, great- grand-aunt of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.] She wrote:

Dear Mama, George Hanger has sent me a Black boy, eleven years old and very honest, but the duke don’t like me having a black, and yet I cannot bear the poor wretch being ill-used; if you like him instead of Michel I will send him, he will be a cheap servant and you will make a Christian of him and a good boy; if you don’t like him they say Lady Rockingham wants one. [3]

Enslaved Africans were dehumanised in order to justify a lucrative trade. ‘This human livestock – these “black cattle” – was the ideal commodity’ [4]. The eugenics movement assisted in this dehumanising process, using pseudoscience to ‘prove’ that African brains were not as well developed as ‘white’ ones. The purpose of eugenics was to ensure that only ‘good’ genes are passed to future generations, while ‘bad’ genes are eliminated. The term was first coined by Francis Galton, an English scientist and half-cousin of Charles Darwin [5].

According to the Atlanta Black Star online, Galton’s family became wealthy from slave labour. He wrote:

‘I do not join in the belief that the African is our equal in brain or in heart; I do not think that the average negro cares for his liberty as much as an Englishman, or as a self-born Russian; and I believe that if we can in any fair way, possess ourselves of his services, we have an equal right to utilize them to our advantages’. [6]

As a Humanities undergraduate I studied the history of racism starting from contemporary tabloid racist terminology used in the reporting of Vietnamese refugees (the so-called ‘Boat People’) as they began to arrive in Britain, all the way back to the slave trade and the role of eugenics and scientific racism, a form of pseudoscience. In addition to the largely unrecorded slave rebellions a further form of black resistance occurred when an African slave attempted to escape. Samuel A Cartwright, an American physician, invented the most bizarre ‘disease’, Drapetomania, the disease of running away. Cartwright prescribed ‘cures’ for this ‘disease’ which involved torture and mutilation. [7]

The Slave Trade Act 1807 outlawed the international slave trade, but not slavery itself. In 1833 the British government made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire, with the exception of ‘The Territories in the possession of the East India Company’, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Saint Helena [8]. Although the 1833 Act stipulated that enslaved peoples were now legally free, they were still obliged to work for their former masters for up to 45 hours a week without pay. This system was euphemistically known as ‘apprenticeship’. Primarily it was designed to ease the ‘burden’ of emancipation for the planters, ‘whilst easing the ex-slaves into “citizenship” [9]. In relation to Holy Trinity, we know that Reverend Robert Anderson who consecrated Holy Trinity in 1826, previously a non-conformist chapel, his father was appointed a position in the East India Company’s Maritime Service in Madras and Robert himself went to Haileybury the college of British East India Company. After Haileybury Robert left for India to join the Madras Civil Service but returned to England when his father died.

The slave owners and their families received massive compensation for the loss of their ‘property’. Following the abolition of slavery in the British colonies, a Slave Compensation Commission was set up to manage a £20 million fund that was to be paid to ex-slave owners and/or their families. An account of the debate on slave owners’ compensation in the House of Commons, was recorded in the Sun (London) on 14 August 1835 when the Commons passed a motion for interest to be paid on the allotted £20 million:


On the Report of this Bill being brought up, The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER justified the clause. The Emancipation Act took away the property of the slave-owners and also imposed certain irksome obligations upon them . . . Major BEAUCLERK said that the sum of 800,000l. interest on the debt was not included in the original Bill. When Lord Althorp spoke of this debt of twenty millions he did not refer to the interest, and, therefore, there was no understanding that it should be paid . . . The House voted the money, and the interest should be paid. MR POTTER then withdrew his motion, and the Bill was read a third time. [10]

The British Government paid out 46,000 individual claims to slave owners in British territories. ‘Each slave was valued according to his or her skills and the success of the plantation on which they worked’. The modern equivalent of £17bn was paid in total. [11]


Kathryn Williams writes in “The real story of how slave money benefited liberal Brighton” that evidence of slave ownership in Brighton wasn’t ‘very prominent or well covered’. Brighton was an abolition town with an anti-slavery society and with MPs who voted for abolition (e.g. George Faithfull, The Holy Trinity Chapel dissenting minister, and his fellow MP Isaac Newton Wigney). [12]

‘The Abolition of the Slave Trade’ (The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840)
by John Alfred Vinter, after Benjamin Robert Haydon
lithograph, circa 1846-1864 (1841)
NPG D23546
© National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1830 a packed public meeting in Brighton agreed to petition Parliament for emancipation in the colonies. An Anti-Slavery Society and a Ladies Anti-Slavery Association were founded [13]. A Brighton grocer, Isaac Bass became delegate at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 [14].

The Brighton Guardian Weds 10 April 1833 illustrates the activism of the time:


A public MEETING of the Inhabitants and Visitors of Brighton will be held at the Old Ship Rooms, on FRIDAY, April 12 th , to Petition both Houses of Parliament, for the immediate and total Abolishment of Colonial Slavery.

The Chair to be taken at 12 o’clock.

Yet despite its liberal activism ‘Brighton was also a very successful fashionable resort for wealthy people and a subset of those were slave owners. Wealth was regarded as it is now, it’s a private matter – and Brighton’s bread and butter depended on it’ – Kathryn Williams [15].

Williams cites the findings of Dr Gillian Scott, a visiting researcher to Brighton University who undertook a research project ‘Tracing Brighton’s Slave Ownership’. One such slave owner was Sir Edward Codrington who inherited the Folly Estate in Antigua in 1742 and who was a member of one of the biggest slave owning families in the British Empire. A blue plaque on the wall of the property in Western Road which the Codrington family owned and where he lived from 1828 to 1832 has been removed [16].

Of other Brighton links that I found:

Charles Lushington, Whig MP of Marine Parade. He benefited from his wife’s estate in Jamaica: seven plantations had 322 slaves. Compensation £5849.6s.10d. (His brother Stephen, also a Whig politician and judge, was a campaigner for the abolition of slavery). [17]

Slave owners were not just in Brighton of course but dotted all over the country. A few examples follow from the county of Sussex.

Samantha Cameron’s distant ancestor, William Joliffe of West Sussex owned an estate in St Lucia with 164 slaves. He or his family was compensated £4,174 5s 8d. He later became a vicar. The Argus website records that Samantha Cameron declined to comment on this. [18]

Sir John Gage of Firle House, East Sussex owned 108 slaves in Monserrat. He was compensated £1759 8s 11d [Ibid] A slave uprising on John Gage’s estate had been brutally crushed in 1786 and nine rebels were hanged. The present Lord Gage commented ‘It was a big surprise’ [which part?] ‘I do not approve of slavery. It was one of the worst things to happen in modern history, if you can call 200 years ago modern history. It was a big surprise to learn this and I’m certainly not proud of what we have learned on this. I’m very shocked by slavery and to learn about this.’ [Ibid]

John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller, Brightling, a High Sheriff of Sussex and MP for Sussex from 1801-12 was a keen supporter of slavery. He owned the Rose Hill Estate in Sussex and estates in Jamaica. He had more than 250 slaves. After his death his family were compensated £3895 7s 7d and a further £762 16s 10d [Ibid]

Baron Seaford of Sussex, the grandson of George Ellis the Chief Justice of Jamaica, was awarded compensation for more than a 1000 slaves on five plantations. [Ibid]

Sir Godfrey Vassall Webster, 5th baronet of Battle Abbey, Battle, and a Tory MP for Sussex, was involved in three plantations in Jamaica. £5000 was paid to his successor the 6th baron. [Ibid]

Henry Laird whose brother was the physician & geologist James Laird, of Bognor, was compensated £2174 19s 11d for 116 slaves in Jamaica. [Ibid]

David Lyon, a High Sheriff of Sussex was compensated for three estates in Jamaica and involved in the compensation for another ten; there were 2500 slaves altogether and payouts of £5622 and £1855. [Ibid]

Brighton’s links with slavery are further explored in research carried out at Brighton University’s School of Humanities. Bergin & Rupprecht’s article Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitlement, which summarises this research, can be found in RACE &CLASS, Sage journals.

In 2017 a three week installation Maps and Lives opened in the Phoenix Gallery, inviting local communities to map Brighton from their own perspectives. As part of this ‘participatory activity’ between artists and the community, the Brighton and Hove Black History Group contributed its research into Brighton’s historic Black presence, including the grave of ‘a young African boy called Tom Highflyer, who had been rescued from a slave Dhow in 1866 and brought to Brighton by Capt Thomas Malcolm Sabine Pasley of the Royal Navy’s East African Anti-Slave Trade Squadron . . .The marking of Highflyer’s grave acted as a reminder of the continuation of human trafficking.’ (after Britain’s own abolition of involvement in the trade and in slavery itself in 1807 and 1838 respectively). [Bergin & Rupprecht p27]

The research team found that sixty-nine slave owners and former slave owners had an address in Brighton and Hove between 1800 and 1880, most of whom received compensation money in the 1830s. Of the sixty-nine only two were evidently born here, whereas another forty-five retired or died here [19] . The ‘Regency splendour’ in which a significant number of the compensated slave owners lived, was located along the Brighton seafront. Brighton had become the stylish resort, “attracting aristocrats and the nouveau riche, many of whom invested in the new luxury housing developments springing up along the sea-front to the east and west of the Prince Regent’s “stately pleasure dome” the Royal Pavilion . . . ‘in the short half mile along the sea-front, running east towards the grandeur of Thomas Kemp’s Sussex Square, records show eight properties occupied by recipients of very substantial slave compensation monies’. [Bergin & Rupprecht p27-8]

Black Agency in Abolition

In 1824 following the Demerara slave rebellion, Elizabeth Heyrick, a leading white abolitionist, published a pamphlet called ‘Immediate not Gradual Emancipation’ which was influential in the development of the Anti-slavery Society. In it she defended the Haiti revolution and the rights of enslaved people, calling for a more widespread boycott on West Indian sugar. [Bergin & Rupprecht p34]. The title is still relevant given that slavery continued until after the mid century and British tax payers reportedly didn’t finish paying compensation to slaver families until 2015. ‘Not a penny was paid to those who were enslaved and brutalised.’ [20]

And notably, the first slave narrative by a woman, ‘The History of Mary Prince’ was published in 1831.

Both Prince’s narrative and Heyrick’s pamphlet demonstrate that ‘abolitionism was an interracial movement shaped by black protests.’ And despite its slavery connections, Brighton retained a strong anti-slavery movement. The preface to Heyrick’s pamphlet was an advertisement informing readers that Brighton grocers were refusing to sell West Indian sugar. [Bergin & Rupprecht p34]

Olaudah Equiano (‘Gustavus Vassa’) Writer and slavery abolitionist
by Daniel Orme, published by Olaudah Equiano (‘Gustavus Vassa’), after W. Denton
stipple engraving, published 1 March 1789
NPG D8546

Bergin & Rupprecht’s article refutes the white liberal narrative that Black emancipation was solely brought about by the efforts of white abolitionists in Britain. Resistance was happening in the colonies on the plantations. The researchers cite Angel Smith, who points out how few studies have ‘sought to go beyond the transition from slavery to freedom and more specifically, to explore the impact of the enslaved themselves in shaping their own history’ [21]. She writes ‘One of the most unifying features of slave societies in the British Caribbean was the extent to which the enslaved resisted their enslavement in an attempt to attain levels of autonomy in their lives. Regardless of the size of the individual slave societies, their geographic location in relation to other slave societies, their economic focus, or their demographic composition, there was always evidence among the enslaved population of a ‘culture of resistance’ which proved to be widespread, encompassing every aspect of life. This resistance, which manifested itself in violent and non-violent forms, was considered to be “endemic to slave societies” in the Caribbean and was based on the slaves’ desire to take control of their own existence and thereby becoming free’ [22].

Bergin & Rupprecht explore one particular case, that of Caroline Ellen Anderson (not to be confused with the wife of HTC’s minister Robert Anderson, Caroline Dorothea Shore, whose father was John Shore, 1 st Baron Teignmouth, an anti-slavery campaigner but also an official in the British colonial East India Company). Caroline Ellen Anderson’s last known Brighton address was 9, Bedford Street, Marine Parade. Her father Andrew Anderson owned a sugar plantation in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. On his death his brother James, a London lawyer, became executor of his will. Caroline and her sister inherited their father’s land, his debts and ninety-six enslaved women and seventy-eight enslaved men. James eventually passed over the management of the estate to two local corrupt and powerful lawyers, William Rogers Isaacs and William George Crabb. The lawyers were despised by the people working on the plantation, who in 1831 staged a rebellion which has ‘hitherto been overlooked in the archive’. Isaacs had humiliated and starved them, and they had heard he had said he’d ‘rather have his head cut off’ than ‘give the negroes free’. The slaves had started to hear that slavery was being slowly dismantled in Britain but with no immediate effect on their enslavement, and led by Sam Fahie and Jacob Long, they ‘bolstered their resolve to rise up and claim their freedom.’ They planned to arm themselves and if they were denied, kill the whites and escape to ‘St Domingo’. They planned the uprising, but it was uncovered, and nine of the men were sentenced to death. Isaacs pressed for the sentence to be carried out, but the Governor decided on clemency, and the nine were transported from the island. The Governor insisted that the men had been misled and mistaken in their belief that their freedom had been illegally denied. [Bergin & Rupprecht pps 28-32]

These remote events seem to have very little to do with Brighton, yet for three reasons they do.

  1. The rebels were ‘owned’ by Brightonians who may or may nor have had any knowledge or understanding of what was happening in the Caribbean. Caroline Anderson and her sister were awarded £2222 5s 9d in compensation after the Act of 1833. [Bergin and Rupprecht p28] As Eddo-Lodge writes in reference to the distance between Britain and the plantations, they ‘saw the money without the blood’ [Eddo-Lodge p5].
  2. The rebellion was one of many acts by black people themselves which have been kept secret in the white narrative of abolition.
  3. White Brightonians were also active in the fight against slavery and early examples for white people today who believe that Black Lives Matter.

We are always eager to learn any relevant local historical information as part of the process of this research project. If you wish to contribute a comment or email then please do below or via

  1. Katy Rice, Slave trade past of prominent Sussex families discovered online, 2013
  2. English Heritage Properties 1600-1830 and Slavery Connections
  3. English Heritage Properties 1600-1830 and Slavery Connections
  4. Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Bloomsbury 2018, p4
  6. , Ten disturbing Facts African Americans Should Know About Eugenics (The website judges this website to be left-biased but scores high for factual reporting.)
  7. Wikipedia entry, Drapetomania
  8. Wikipedia entry: Slavery Abolition Act 1833
  9. Bergin and Rupprecht, Reparative Histories in Race and Class (SAGE website) p30
  10. Sun (London) – Friday 14 August 1835 British Newspaper Archives online
  11. The Guardian 12 Feb 2018, David Olusoga
  12. Sussex Live website, The real story of how slave money benefited liberal Brighton, 16 July 2020
  13. Zachary Macaulay (ed.) Anti-Slavery Reporter Vol 4 found on Google Books, also British Newspaper Archive, Brighton Gazette, 18 November 1830
  14. National Portrait Gallery catalogue
  15. Sussex Live website, The real story of how slave money benefited liberal
    Brighton, 16 July 2020
  16. Controversial plaque commemorating slave owner removed, 12 June 2020
  17. trade past of prominent Sussex families discovered online
  18. Katy Rice, Slave trade past of prominent Sussex families discovered online, 2013
  19. , University of Brighton, Tracing Brighton’s forgotten slave-owners
  20. , Naomi Fowler, Britain’s Slave Owner Compensation Loan, reparations and tax havenry 9 June 2020
  21. Angel Smith, An Anatomy of Slave Society in Transition: The Virgin Islands 1807-1864; Unpublished Doctoral thesis: Hull University 2011, Abstract
  22. A Smith, Chapter 4

2 thoughts on “Brighton and Slavery

  1. You say Rev Ralph Daly Cocking’s parents gave him “Daly” as a middle name because of Ralph Daly’s partnership with Richard Daly. You omitted to say that Richard Daly was Ralph Cocking’s cousin, and Ralph Cocking’s mother was Anne Daly – hence Daly was a family name passed down and not a tribute to a business partner.


  2. Hi Deb, Thanks so much for your comment – I shall pass onto the research group! This was a small snippet of a wider profile on Ralph Daly Cocking which detail’s his family life. If you have further information on the Daly and Cocking family then please do share with us at as the group would love to hear it. Thanks, Sally


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